Monday, May 27, 2024

Attractions by UNIT9: Experience design, reinvented

Attractions by UNIT9 delivers magic and wonder to audiences

by Gene Jeffers

Danny Burzlaff

Acclaimed experts in experience design and wielders of AI, VR, AR & hybrid experiences, product design, experiential, gaming and wider digital experience, UNIT9 has been increasingly drawn into the maelstrom of location-based entertainment (LBE) and attractions. The production studio recently named Danny Burzlaff to head their new Attractions by UNIT9 division. “Attractions of all types are centered around delivering magic and wonder for their audiences,” says Burzlaff. “Precisely what UNIT9 has been creating for a variety of industries over the past 25 years.”

Combining strategy, innovation and premier craftsmanship with limitless creative thinking, Attractions by UNIT9 is uniquely positioned to help brands and institutions reimagine reality, unlock the future of experience and reach and retain new audiences. With the full range of UNIT9 divisions on tap, Burzlaff and his team are now partnering with theme parks, museums, cultural institutions, retail, hospitality, and global expos to implement compelling experience opportunities through advancements in AR, VR, XR, Web3, metaverse experiences, immersive theatre, gamification, world-building, avatar creation and high-craft 3D.

The brief

Client-relations and guest experiences most often determine the success or failure of a project. “For me, there are two rewarding milestones to a project,” Burzlaff says. “First, when we have created a mind-blowing concept design that totally resonates with the client.” With such complex and multifaceted projects, high levels of collaboration and a pain-staking detail-oriented process are required every step of the way. “Once the concept and design are completed and the client loves it and approves the project for execution, that’s always a celebratory moment,” he admits. “And of course, there is that second moment when you experience it live through the eyes of the guests and know that your work has created a new perspective, know you have given guests a most unique experience.”

Attractions by UNIT9

To help reach that pinnacle, Attractions by UNIT9 offers clients a unique approach that fuses innovation with creativity, merging digital possibilities with physical realities.

While it operates as a separate division within UNIT9 it can also work together with the other divisions to support the needs of each project as required, such as using specialist strategy resources, working in tangent with UNIT9’s dedicated Metaverse Advisory Department or its music and culture division, FNDM. As a group, the firm operates on a global scale and carefully curates specialist teams that are the best fit for each project.

Creating that special, magical experience for the client and their guests is always the objective. “When done right, standout experiences will increase footfall – both physically and virtually – driving a deeper sense of loyalty and connection amongst guests, and ultimately make that destination famous,” Burzlaff says. Visitors transformed into a fan base return again and again.

Hitting budget projections both in production and ROI are also critical to every project. “Ultimately, if I was to narrow it down to one key objective, it would be overall guest satisfaction. Did we achieve the goal of providing something compelling, fun, fascinating, unique and memorable for visitors? Did we succeed in pulling at their hearts, while delivering the unimaginable? If the answer is yes, then that’s a job well done.”

The tools

Artificial intelligence (AI) – AI offers incredibly important ways to elevate visitor experiences. Tech-led personalized convenience now surrounds us in our everyday lives. Netflix gives you tailored recommendations, Alexa helps with a recipe in the kitchen. “Audiences have come to expect that same level of tailored guidance and careful curation with every experience, especially so when they’re a paying guest,” Burzlaff notes. “AI can enhance the user journey with personalized content and storytelling, essentially placing the guest as the hero in their own adventure. AI is rapidly becoming a major data collection asset for venues, helping them to better understand their visitors and improve their experiences next time round.

Augmented reality (AR) – AR offers new ways to elevate the physical experience into something never before experienced. From helpful and fun wayfinding to location-based gaming or an engaging educational device, augmenting information or adding engagement opportunities on top of a physical feature or experience are incredibly exciting tools for visitor attractions. “UNIT9’s AR-integrated installation at Goodwood Festival of Speed in the U.K. transformed a 50m sculpture into a digital racetrack, complete with AR supercars, providing guests with an unexpected surprise as they explored the motor show,” says Burzlaff.

UNIT9 worked with Vodafone at the Mighty Hoopla music festival in London to deploy haptic suits that helped deaf and hard-of-hearing fans to feel the music and reactions of the crowd.

Haptic tech – An obvious benefit of emerging haptic technologies is the ability to stimulate alternate senses and enable guests to feel like they have truly entered a different world. “Haptic applications can create more inclusive experiences, opening up an activation to whole new audiences that are often overlooked,” says Burzlaff. “Working with Vodafone at the Mighty Hoopla music festival in London, we used haptic suits powered by machine learning to allow deaf and hard-of-hearing fans to feel every beat of their favorite performances as well as the reactions of the crowd.”

Metaverse calling – The metaverse era is just now beginning to happen, new age of the web empowering a seamless blend of the physical and virtual worlds. Ever since Neal Stephenson coined the term “metaverse” in Snow Crash, experience designers and creators have been trying to define and develop real-world paths to this “beyond yet connected” universe. “The journeys toward the metaverse, or at least toward specific versions of a metaverse, are incredibly exciting for the LBE and themed entertainment market,” Burzlaff says. “We’re just now starting to get a tantalizing glimpse at how a metaverse future can be implemented for in-person experiences – from seamlessly augmented gamified layers over a park’s physical infrastructure, to intuitive AR wayfinding systems.”

Virtual world- building options are fueling creativity on both owned and open platforms, and creators are faced with the golden opportunity to not only inject digital elements into the physical experience, but also transport visitors to completely new and surreal locations. He emphasizes that “metaverse experiences are going to be a big feature of the visitor attractions space – from incredible, otherworldly takes on theme parks created as virtual playgrounds for visitors all around the world to explore, to creating a persistent digital layer like we did with The Beat Challenge for LaLiga x PortAventura. It sits on top of the physical park infrastructure and allows guests to tap into an alternative reality as they explore the park.” With a plethora of avenues to explore, now is the time for venues and destinations to plan their strategy and role within this exciting new landscape or risk getting left behind.

The team

For more than 35 years, Head of Attractions Burzlaff has designed, created and produced major shows, attractions, exhibits, events and experiences across 20 countries. As the main ambassador for the division, he represents Attractions by UNIT9 at global industry events, works closely with clients and keeps his creative finger on the pulse.

UNIT9 Creative Director Kate Lynham has created interactive window displays at Berlin’s KaDeWe store as well as a projection-mapped game of Candy Crush.

The team also features Executive Creative Producer Gigi Bee, who has worked with architect firms including Santiago Calatrava, Foster + Partners and Daniel Libeskind, directing and producing installations for a number of world expos, including Dubai and Milan.

Two UNIT9 Creative Directors will provide direct support: Kate Lynham (past projects include an AR-integrated sculpture at Goodwood Festival of Speed for Lotus Cars, interactive window displays at Berlin’s KaDeWe store and a projection- mapped game of Candy Crush) and Sean Pruen (the director behind UNIT9’s Cannes Grand Prix-winning experience for ASICS, a kinetic installation for John Legend x Stella Artois and an interactive live stream launch event for Xbox).

The pitch

“Inconceivable creativity x digital innovation” is the Attractions by UNIT9 motto. “That is the mantra behind our work,” says Burzlaff. “We fuse wild imagination and expert craft with trail-blazing technology to create unequalled, never before seen experiences for visitors.” The team takes the strongest points from the digital and physical worlds and creates fully immersive visitor experiences with real impact.

While Attractions by UNIT9 leverages a wide range of existing and emerging software, hardware and wearables, technology is never used just for the sake of technology. The interests and needs of guests always remain the central focus. Tech is used to enhance, assist, educate or entertain depending on the audience and the context. The client’s story or purpose must always be the star of the show. “When the tech is invisible, the experience becomes magical,” Burzlaff points out. “We strip away the distractions of ‘how we did it’ to immerse visitors in the client’s story. After all, shouldn’t that be the point of every attraction?” • • •

The Beat Challenge for LaLiga x PortAventura
Gene Jeffers
Gene Jeffers
Gene Jeffers, former (2001-2013) TEA Executive Director, is currently serving as a Board member for the Greater San Gabriel Pomona Valleys American Red Cross and serves on the Board of the Historical Novel Society. He continues to write in a variety of genres. Based in Pasadena, Gene and his wife Carol (also a writer) are looking forward to traveling again and spending more post-COVID time with their two daughters, son-in-law and three grandchildren.

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